“If I must die,/ you must live/ to tell my story/ to sell my things/ to buy a piece of cloth/ and some strings,/ (make it white with a long string)/ so that a child, somewhere in Gaza/ while looking heaven in the eye/ awaiting his dad who left in a blaze —/ and bid no one farewell/ not even his flesh/ not even to himself —/ sees the kite, my kite you made, flying up/ above/ and thinks for a moment an angel is there/ bringing back love/ If I must die/ let it bring hope/ let it be a tale.”
REFAAT Alareer, a UCL graduate who taught literature at the Islamic University of Gaza, wrote these lines during an Israeli assault on the Strip in 2011. If anything, their meaning and message is even more poignant and relevant today. He tweeted till late into the night of Dec 4, 2023, before he was killed, along with his sister, her children and his brother-in-law in a targeted assassination on her home in Gaza.
As the US and its Western allies continue to back Israel’s genocidal war against the Palestinians in Gaza the number of those killed has risen to some 18,000, over 60 per cent of whom are children and women. I attempt to dive down into those cold statistics and try to put names and, where possible, a sketch or two of who makes up those stats.
If it weren’t for social media, Al Jazeera and a couple of other broadcasters we wouldn’t have got a sense of what life must be like amidst an insane Israeli barrage to expel the Palestinians from Gaza altogether. As these lines were being written, there was a sense that, for example, CNN was realising the enormity of the crimes being perpetrated by the Israeli forces in Gaza. This followed the murder in their home of nine members of a CNN producer’s family.
The Israeli objective of executing the second Nakba would have been accomplished had it not been for Palestinian valour.
This somewhat delayed realisation was reminiscent of the Gulf war, where after much murder, mayhem the US media realised what had been sold to them in the name of patriotism. One can hope that one day, the Western media can see that it is unfair, even outrageous, to expect the Palestinians to quietly atone for the sins of Nazi Germany.
Notwithstanding the mainstream media’s acts of omission and commission, here is a look at the final moments of Refaat Alareer through his last tweets on Dec 4 before a US-supplied so-called smart bomb destroyed his sister’s home and killed him and all members present of his family.
“We are enveloped in thick layers of gunpowder and cement. There are several bombs and shells each and every single minute. It’s suffocating.
“The building is shaking. The debris and shrapnel are hitting the walls and flying in the streets. Israel has not stopped bombing, shelling, and shooting. Pray for us. Pray for Gaza.
“We could die this dawn. I wish I were a freedom fighter so I die fighting back those invading Israeli genocidal maniacs invading my neighbourhood and city.”
This man was an accomplished writer, poet, teacher and an amazing human being whose students’ social media posts show he was adored and revered. He made many media/ social media appearances which enraged the Zionists as he refused to condemn what he saw as legitimate acts of resistance against the occupation. His avowed resolve not to leave Gaza even if it meant being killed brought a lump to my throat.
He was an academic and man of literature who was widely admired and mourned when he was killed but the BBC called him ‘controversial’ and said ‘Palestinians’ mourn his death. This same BBC had the most charitable of headlines when Henry Kissinger passed away, as journalist Abid Husain pointed out in a tweet.
When Refaat Alareer was killed, occupation apologists exploded in joy because, according to them, he ‘celebrated’ the killing of a baby who was ostensibly ‘baked in an oven’ by Hamas fighters. This claim of the baby’s death was later withdrawn as it wasn’t true. Alareer’s dark humour as he’d pooh-poohed it by RTing the story with a “With baking powder or without?” was to many, a comment made in all seriousness and worthy of a death sentence/ execution.
Israel has targeted Palestinian intellectuals and professionals as is clear by the murder of a large number of them and also destroyed schools, colleges, universities and technical institutes. The day before Alareer’s killing, Prof Sofian Tayyah, the president of the Islamic University of Gaza, a respected teacher of math and physics, was also target-bombed and killed with his entire family.
The Israeli objective of executing the second Nakba or mass expulsion from the Strip would have been accomplished had it not been for the valour of the Gaza Palestinians who have braved genocidal slaughter and not budged as one would have imagined they would, given the ferocity of the Israeli assault.
Many of them said they were expelled in 1948 from their homes of many generations in what is now southern Israel and confined to Gaza, but would rather be killed than be expelled from Gaza too. They vowed to resist the occupation till their final breath.
At last count, some 200 medical health professionals, including many leading doctors/ surgeons, over 130 UN personnel, 75 journalists and a large number of educators have been killed by Israel. A people with a weaker heart would have had their will broken.
The Palestinian spirit could not have been better demonstrated than by Dr Hammah Alloh of the Al Shifa Hospital who was asked by a Democracy Now presenter why he wouldn’t leave the hospital and evacuate to the south with his family: “You think that’s why I went to medical school; to think only about myself and leave my patients?” He stood by his patients till an Israeli bomb ended his life.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2023